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Best Credit Card Offers for Active Duty Military

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Best Credit Card Offers for Active Duty Military

If you’re an active-duty member of the military trying to decide which credit card to take on your deployment, don’t just settle for one with good “civilian” perks. If you carry a card with outsized military benefits, such as 0% APR during active duty or low interest for up to a year after active duty has ended, you could save hundreds of dollars in interest charges.

Features like these aren’t exactly common. Many issuers provide active-duty military members only those benefits that are required by the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, such as waived service and renewal fees (including annual fees) and interest rates on pre-service debt capped at 6% APR. But some credit card issuers — including a handful of major issuers — go the extra mile and offer even better terms to active-duty service members, which take effect when you notify them of your orders.

MORE: What issuers offer the best SCRA benefits?

NerdWallet evaluated cards based on SCRA benefits, ongoing rewards, ease of earning and redeeming rewards and availability of military customer service. Here are the cards that ranked the highest on those criteria.

Best flat-rate cash-back: Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

Earn 1% cash-back on every dollar spent and 1% on every dollar paid off. $0 annual fee. Introductory APR of 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 24.24% Variable APR. Requires good credit.

Benefits of the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

  • For SCRA-eligible accounts opened before the beginning of active duty, Citi waives service and renewal fees and offers 0% APR during active duty, according to a Citi spokesperson. Normally, the APR is 0% on Balance Transfers for 18 months, and then the ongoing APR of 14.24% - 24.24% Variable APR. Most issuers don’t offer 0% APR to active-duty service members.
  • You can earn 1% cash back on every purchase, plus another 1% back when you pay it off. This rewards rate is the highest among no-fee flat-rate cash-back cards on NerdWallet.
  • You can redeem cash-back rewards for a check, gift card or statement credit.
  • You get a complimentary FICO score with your account.
  • The Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer, a MasterCard, is widely accepted internationally.
  • Citi provides 24/7 access to customer service representatives who are military specialists. To get help with SCRA benefits, you can call 877-804-1082 (in the U.S.) or 605-335-2222 (outside the U.S., collect).

Drawbacks of the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

  • After your active duty ends, you’ll have to pay foreign transaction fees on this card.
  • This card doesn’t come with a big sign-up bonus or other travel benefits. Someone who engages in frequent non-duty travel may be better off with a general travel card.

The bottom line

Aside from high cash rewards, the Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer also offers 0% APR for SCRA-eligible service members during active duty. The flat-rate cash-back rewards are easy to earn and redeem, even when your expenses fluctuate during permanent change of station (PCS) moves, deployments and other changes.

This card may not be an ideal choice if you want to travel internationally after your deployment, as it begins charging 3% foreign transaction fees again when your active duty service ends. But if you’re paying off credit card debt, or you’re looking for a straightforward card with a high rewards rate, it offers excellent ongoing value.

Best for travel rewards: Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $89. Introductory APR of 0% on Balance Transfers for 12 months (on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening), and then the ongoing APR of 16.74%, 20.74% or 23.74% Variable APR.

Requires good credit.

Benefits of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

  • Barclaycard waives all service and renewal fees (including the annual fee) and offers 0% APR on both pre-service debt and on new purchases for eligible active-duty service members, according to a spokesperson. Most issuers don’t offer 0% APR to active-duty military. You can call customer service at 877-523-0478 to apply for Barclaycard’s SCRA protections.
  • You can get a big sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days — that's enough to redeem for a $500 travel statement credit.
  • You earn 2 miles for every dollar spent, worth 1 cent each when redeemed as travel statement credit. When you redeem your miles, you’ll also get a 5% miles bonus toward your next redemption. This raises the effective rewards rate to 2.1% on all purchases, higher than any other flat-rate travel rewards card on the market.
  • As a MasterCard and one of the few cards in the U.S. with chip-and-PIN capability (instead of chip-and-signature), this card is widely accepted all over the world.

Drawbacks of the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

  • After you return from active duty, you’ll have to pay the card’s annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $89.
  • Unlike other travel cards, this card doesn’t offer airline fee credits, free upgrades or waived baggage fees.
  • This card may not be the best match for you if you don’t plan on traveling frequently long-term. Cash-back rewards are more versatile.

The bottom line

For service members who qualify for Barclaycard’s SCRA benefits, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is the highest-value general travel credit card on NerdWallet. Aside from the high rewards rate — effectively 2.1% — eligible service members can skip the annual fee and get 0% APR on pre-service debt and new purchases during active-duty service. Normally, it’s just 0% on Balance Transfers for 12 months (on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening), and then the ongoing APR of 16.74%, 20.74% or 23.74% Variable APR.

The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® isn’t the best deal if you don’t plan on traveling frequently after your deployment, since the rewards are most valuable when redeemed for travel statement credit. But if you want to earn a big sign-up bonus, rack up miles and save on interest charges, it could be an excellent fit.

Best for fair credit: Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day. The annual fee is $39. The APR is The ongoing APR is 24.99% Variable APR.

Requires fair credit.

Benefits of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • For eligible active-duty service members, Capital One waives all fees and caps interest rates at 4% APR during active duty and for a year afterward, according to its website. It also extends SCRA benefits to people who aren’t typically covered, including National Guard members serving in state-funded active duty, according to a Capital One spokesperson.
  • You get 1.5% cash-back rewards on all your purchases. This is the highest cash-back rewards available among cards on NerdWallet for people with average credit.
  • After paying on time for five months in a row, you’ll get a credit line increase.
  • The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card is a MasterCard, and is widely accepted internationally. You won’t have to pay foreign transaction fees on this card during your service or after.
  • Capital One offers 24/7 access to customer service representatives who are military specialists. For help with SCRA benefits, call 1-855-CAP1MIL (227-1645).

Drawbacks of the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card

  • After your active-duty service ends, you’ll have to pay the annual fee of $39.
  • The card doesn’t come with a sign-up bonus or other fringe benefits.

The bottom line

The Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card offers the best value to active duty service members among all the cards for people with fair credit on NerdWallet. Aside from earning 1.5% cash-back on all purchases, eligible service members can also qualify for 4% APR and waived annual fees. For those with constantly-changing expenses, these flat-rate rewards are easy to earn and easy to redeem.

If you can qualify for a card with higher ongoing rewards, this card probably isn’t the best choice for you. But if you’re trying to work toward a better credit score and want to earn decent rewards while you’re at it, this card offers outstanding value.

This post has been updated. It was originally published January 5, 2015. 

Claire Tsosie is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.


Image via iStock.